UTD Receives Unique Bequest – A Photo Collection Gift To School Of Arts and Humanities Includes
Documentation of Civil Rights Movement, Urban Life

RICHARDSON, Texas (June 14, 2004) — The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) has received an unusual gift from an alumnus — a collection of photography that includes important mid-to-late 20th century depictions of American life, including pictures documenting the Civil Rights movement.

The donor, Jerry L. Comer, 67, of Richardson, who received a master’s degree in management from UTD in 1977, said he began collecting rare and important photographs in the 1970’s and decided that the time had come to protect the images for future generations.

The compilation will be called the Jerry and Marilyn Comer Photography Collection.

“Because of my affiliation with U. T. Dallas, and because of the university’s budding photography program, I felt the gift to UTD was a natural fit,” Comer, a retired engineer, said. “I am glad to know the images will be used for educational purposes and that they will be admired and studied for years to come.”

From left to right: Dennis Kratz, Jerry Comer, Marilyn Comer.
Photo by Rick Biddenstadt

Marked by both its diversity and high quality, the collection contains nearly 100 photos as well as more than 150 books and 200 periodicals about modern and contemporary art and photography. The total value of the donation exceeds $143,000.

Comer added that the LIFE book, 100 Photographs That Changed the World, includes two photos from the collection — “American Gothic” by Gordon Parks is a 1942 portrait of Ella Watson, a government cleaning woman in Washington, D.C., holding a broom and standing in front of an American flag; and “Birmingham 1963” by Charles Moore, which shows three black demonstrators being pummeled by a high-velocity water hose. The picture is credited with rallying support for the civil rights movement.

The gift eventually could lead to the development of academic programs for both undergraduate and graduate students along with lectures and exhibitions for the general public, said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of UTD’s School of Arts and Humanities.

 “Photographs can bring history to life, communicating more powerfully ideas that are difficult to comprehend in written form,” Kratz said. “We are extremely grateful to Jerry for this exceptional donation to the university.”

Approximately one-third of the collection represents the work of women artists, and numerous images depict American and African-American history, including several that record the Civil Rights movement.

Those photographs include Dan Weiner’s portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Flip Schulke’s sympathetic image of Corretta Scott King at King’s funeral in Atlanta. Other images document protest marches in Selma, conflict on the streets of Birmingham and memorials in Central Park following King’s death. Also included are photographs by Dawoud Bey, Renee Cox and Texan Earlie Hudnall, Jr., among others.

The collection includes the work of numerous socially conscious photographers, many of whom embraced documentary practices. Studies of children by Farm Security Administration photographer Marion Post-Wolcott from 1934 and by renowned contemporary photographer Mary Ellen Mark from 1993 are among the highlights.

The portfolio also provides a visual record of urban settings, with an emphasis on New York City. Images of everyday street life include Bernice Abbott’s 1936 photograph of a New York subway station, Ernst Haas’ 1962 image of Times Square lights reflected on wet pavement at night and Inge Morath’s curious encounter with a llama from 1957.

Several West Coast photographers also are represented, the best-known being Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham, who embraced modernism and helped established a new tradition in photography, especially through their approaches to recording the landscape. A range of images of the American vista, from 1940 to the present, demonstrate both modern and contemporary approaches and include works by Mark Klett, John Pfahl and Joel Meyerowitz.

Other gems in the collection represent innovative work with staged and altered photographs created by such artists as Christopher Bucklow, Zeke Berman, James Balog, Jo Ann Callis and James Casebere.

Finally, several Texas photographers are represented, including Kathy Vargas, Robert Langham III, Charles Kruvand, O. Rufus Lovett, Brent Phelps, Patricia Richards, June Van Cleef, Dan Burkholder, James H. Evans and Fannie Tapper.

About UTD

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 13,700 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.